Dispossessed of home and hope

Israeli anthropologist Jeff Halper believes Ireland should make a stand against the Israeli occupation and destruction of Palestinian territories and homes. Interview by David Shanks

An Israeli activist, recently visiting Ireland, has been critical of the Irish government's refusal to support the Palestinian cause and alleges that two companies in Ireland have been involved in projects for the Israelis.



In an interview with Village, eminent Israeli anthropologist and activist for the Palestinian cause, Professor Jeff Halper criticised Ireland's position on the Palestine Israeli conflict and its willingness to join the EU's sanctioning of aid introduced after the 2006 Hamas election victory.

“Why I highlight Ireland is that you have this tremendous disconnect between the sympathy the Irish people seem to hold for the Palestinians given Irish history –  even the sympathy the Government seems to have – and yet Ireland is not speaking out and is very much conforming to the position of the EU including sanctions on Gaza and so on.”

Halper dismissed Irish diplomatic fears that “we are too small; we're too dependent on the [United] States,” to defy the status quo, saying Sweden and Spain are also secretly critical. “You could probably find one or two more countries. So you have a minority voice. So don't step out alone, step out with a few other countries – as a minority block.”
Jeff Halper heads the decade-old Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), which rebuilds Palestinian homes demolished by Israeli authorities on the grounds that they did not have planning permission. Israel, however, have designated much of the Palestinian-owned terrain as agricultural or parkland forcing many Palestinians to build illegally.  ICAHD has rebuilt about 150 such homes and Halper has personally faced down state bulldozers to oppose what he sees as a bureaucratic tool of dispossession. 

Since the 1967 war, Israel has demolished 18,000 Palestinian homes and only five per cent of these can be justified on “security grounds”, according to Halper. He highlights the case of Salim Shawamreh's family home – on “agricultural land” never farmed since the time of Adam – which has been demolished four times since 1998. His organisation has, in turn, rebuilt it four times. Salim appealed the demolition order to the Israeli Supreme Court and asked for a building permit. That was in February 2007 and a negative ruling was expected within a week or so. A year and a half has now been endured awaiting the dreaded knock; “you have 15 minutes to remove your belongings”.  

Halper alleges that companies in Ireland have profited from the conflict in which Israel used Palestine as “a laboratory” for anti-insurgency techniques and high-tech weaponry. Halper said that the roles of the electronics company DDC Ireland Ltd and of Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH) in the Israeli occupation needed to be investigated. DDC, a US-based company, had a factory in Cork from 1991 to 2006. The firm makes the “lifeline” component for military aircraft, including the Apache attack helicopter, according to its website.

The Apache is often linked in Palestine to human rights abuses, says Amnesty International. The company has now closed down.

CRH, Ireland's largest company, “remains a 25 per cent shareholder in Mashav”, one of whose companies, Nesher, supplies cement for the “Separation Barrier” within the West Bank. Nesher's website says it is Israel's sole cement supplier. In a statement to Village, CRH said “misconceptions” had arisen over Mashav's role in the wall. 
They said: “CRH currently remains a 25 per cent shareholder in Mashav. Misconceptions have arisen in relation to Mashav's participation in the construction of the wall which are centered on the difference between cement and concrete and what Mashav actually does”.

“Mashav owns Nesher Cement which supplies cement to Israeli and Palestinian manufacturers of concrete products in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The collection of this cement is organised by customers from the various suppliers, including Nesher, without reference to the intended application and end-use…. They are not directly involved in the construction of the fence or any other building/civil engineering projects in Israel.”

Halper was in Dublin, Cork and Galway speaking as a guest of Amnesty International on the world tour of his new book An Israeli in Palestine - Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel. Speaking about the current Anapolis negotiations on a Palestinian state, which he described as an “apartheid scheme” designed to rid Israel of Palestine, he said the postponement of settlement is Israel's true aim. The  peace process is merely “smoke and mirrors”, he believes, and failure won't bother Israel much either as the difference between apartheid and the status quo is minimal.

Explaining how he became a critical Israeli, Halper says that if a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged, then “a post-Zionist is a Zionist who has witnessed a house demolition”.

Halper moved to Israel from Minnesota in 1973, part of the 1 per cent of American Jews who have emigrated over the years to Israel. His move was not out of religious or Zionist feeling, unlike the vast majority of the others. He had been a civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protester, “the Judaism I grew up with was defined by its ethics”.  
He found “Israeliness” easy to take on as a primary identity, while “retaining my loathing of Israeli politics, derived as it is from a racist and insular national narrative”. He had emigrated to Israel after attending rabbinical school, notwithstanding his grandmother's admonition, “that is no place for a nice Jewish boy!”

He writes that the Israeli people, who have been told repeatedly that the conflict has no solution, live in a bubble. In effect they tell their politicians “we don't care how you do it but keep us safe. We don't expect peace but we do expect peace and quiet - personal security. Deliver, and we will continue to elect you; fail and you are out. That is the deal”.  

Does he ever feel ashamed to be Israeli? “I would be ashamed if the Israeli people knew what they were doing. I think they have been bamboozled and manipulated and neutralised. I am disappointed in the Israeli people, because of the Jewish experience they should take more responsibility,” he said.

“Both sides are terrorists. Let's not let Israel take the high moral road on this thing. Terrorism is the unwarranted and illegal harm of innocent civilians. Israel is far more culpable than Hamas is.” So it follows that he has no time for the idea that ‘you can't talk to terrorists'.

According to Halper's analysis, Israel has set up a “matrix of control” - a thick web of settlements, bypass roads, checkpoints, the separation wall and fencing guaranteed to make the occupation of Palestinian territories permanent. However, he believes the Occupation is bound to collapse - maybe within the next two years – “under the weight of its own illegality”.

Asked why he thinks the occupation could end soon he says he doesn't know but “it could be Barack Obama's election, the collapse of the American economy, an attack on Iran, a tsunami which changes geopolitics in a major way or it could be something China does because of oil. I don't know but I think the occupation has feet of clay”.